Police Murders & Inquiries
Police Murders & Inquiries
Wii’nimkiikaa, Issue 2, 2005
“The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations. In the colonies it is the policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
On January 31, 2005, Matthew Dumas, an 18-year-old Anishnabe, was pepper-sprayed, shot twice and killed by a Winnipeg Police officer supposedly looking for a robbery suspect. The cops say that Dumas was a suspect in a robbery and was holding a screwdriver. This was the second police killing of an indigenous person in Manitoba that month. On January 4, Dennis St. Paul was shot twice and killed by RCMP constable Darcy Mudd on the Norway House Cree Nation reserve. St. Paul was wanted on a supposed parole violation, his only condition being to stay away from intoxicants. Inquests are to be held in both of the shooting cases, as required by the Manitoba Fatalities Inquiries Act.
Members of the Dumas and St. Paul families gathered for a Winnipeg vigil on February 2 that was attended by over 100 people. Two days later, hundreds attended the funeral of Mathew Dumas. After the funeral, more than 200 people took part in another vigil for the teen outside of Winnipeg’s city hall, prompting officials to close down parts of the building. Witnesses to the Matthew Dumas shooting reported threatening visits from Winnipeg police. Meanwhile, the cops were complaining about verbal abuse from city residents because of the Dumas killing.
At Norway House, a band councilor was permitted to observe the RCMP’s investigation/cover-up of St. Paul’s death. The RCMP report was then handed over to the Regina city police for “review”. In Winnipeg, an offer of observer status was rejected by Manitoba’s top Native official, Dennis White Bird of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The Calgary Police Service is to review the Winnipeg police investigation/cover-up of the Dumas killing.
Some Manitoba chiefs are calling for a public inquiry in the Dumas case and for the implementation of the Manitoba government’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which was launched in 1988 in the wake of scandals over the Winnipeg Police killing of John Joseph Harper in 1988 and police complicity in the murder case of Cree teen Helen Betty Osbourne.
In 1971, Osbourne was abducted and killed by three young White men and a youth of mixed ancestry outside The Pas, Manitoba. The RCMP received information just half-a-year after Osbourne’s murder that one young man had admitted his involvement. A search of his car turned up blood, clothing and hair, but police claimed there was not enough evidence to proceed with charges. 16 years later, in late 1987, only two of the four men were finally brought to trial, and one was acquitted. Just a few months after this trial, a Winnipeg cop shot down Harper while supposedly searching for a much younger car theft suspect. Harper was the director of the Island Lake Tribal Council.
The two cases struck a chord of outrage with indigenous people all over Manitoba, who understood these were not “isolated incidents” but were symbolic of the overall apartheid of the Canadian policing and legal systems. In April of 1988, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry was initiated by Manitoba’s government to investigate the justice system’s treatment of indigneous people in general. The Inquiry’s massive report was released in 1991, but its recommendations were not acted upon. In 1999, the Manitoba government formed the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission to propose methods for putting into practice the recommondations of the Justice Inquiry. The Commission released its report in 2001. J.J. Harper’s uncle, Joe Guy, commented on this long drawn-out, bureaucratic and ineffectual process, saying “There has been no change [since 1988]… As a matter of fact, I could say it is worse today than it was at that time.” Of course, this is because the Canadian legal system is designed by and for the settler ruling class, and the police are this system’s enforcers and defenders. Police and politicians will always prefer to sweep their dirty deeds under the rug. When public scandals make this impossible, they resort to legal manuevers to legitimize their actions.If even this is not enough, the courts may scold or slightly punish offending police officers as sacrificial lambs, but the institutionalized conditions of apartheid will never be truly challenged. Public inquiries in particular are restricted to “finding facts” and are not mandated with determining criminal responsibility.
On October 26, 2004, the final report of the high-profile Neil Stonechild inquiry was released, stating that the Saskatoon police investigation into the 1990 freezing death of the 17-year-old Saulteaux was “superficial and totally inadequate”. The inquiry’s judge determined there was evidence that Stonechild was in the custody of Saskatoon police constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger on the last night he was seen alive. The judge recommended better “race relations” training for officers and that more Aboriginal police be recruited to the Saskatoon force.
During the inquiry, Stonechild’s friend Jason Roy testified that he saw Neil in the back of a police car in 1990, on the last night Stonechild was seen alive. “He was very irate,” said Roy, “He was freaking out. He was saying, ‘J, help me. Just help me. These guys are going to kill me.'” Wounds on Stonechild’s face matched the measurements of police handcuffs.
Stonechild’s murder could have been successfully covered-up by the Saskatoon police, if not for the continuous Native protests over the case and the revelations of Darrel Night. In February of 2000, Night was dumped on the outskirts of town in sub-zero temperatures by two Saskatoon cops. He survived and came forward with his story. This encouraged many other Natives in Saskatoon to come forward with their own experiences of police brutality. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations received a massive amount of these complaints and discovered that dumping Natives outside of town was a very common police practice. Under public pressure, the Minister of Justice called for the RCMP to investigate the freezing deaths of two other Native men, Rodney Naistus and Lawrence Wegner, whose bodies were also found on the outskirts of town in February, 2000.
Saskatoon police officers Ken Hatchen and Dan Munson were convicted in 2001 of unlawfully confining Darrel Night but were sentenced to only eight months in jail. In response to the scandal, the Saskatoon Police force embarked on a “community policing” program. One of the most enthusiastic “community” cops was Larry Hartwig, who turned out to be one of the officers the Stonechild inquiry indicated was responsible for Neil Stonechild’s death.
Upon the release of the Stonechild report, Saskatoon Police Chief Russell Sabo suspended constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger, with pay. 200 members of the Saskatoon Police Association voted to support the officers and White Saskatoon residents held a demonstration outside the Saskatoon Police Station to back the constables. Chief Sabo then fired Hartwig and Senger. More than 100 Native protesters marched through the streets to support the decision and the Stonechild family.
In 2004, inquests were held over the police killings of Geronimo Fobister at the Anishnabe reserve of Grassy Narrows (in Ontario) and Lorraine Jacobsen on a Kwagiutl reserve at Alert Bay (in British Columbia). In both cases the juries absolved the police of any wrongdoing, and in fact recommended an increase in the size of area police detachments.
Also in 2004, British Columbia’s Solicitor General, Rich Coleman, rejected the request by the Police Complaint Commissioner for a public inquiry into the 1998 death of Frank Paul, a Mi’kmaq man. Unconscious and wearing soaking wet clothes, Paul was dragged from the Vancouver jail by a police officer and jail sheriff and dumped in an alley, where he froze to death. At the time, his family was not told how he died. On December 26, 2004, Gerald Chenery, a Nisga’a man, was shot 12 times and killed by two Vancouver cops in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. On March 15, 2005, the International Day Against Police Brutality, about 100 people took to the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with a banner honouring Frank Paul and Gerald Chenery. The neighborhood police station was hit with eggs and paint during the march, as were police vehicles.
In Ontario, the Ipperwash inquiry began in 2004 and is scheduled to continue until September of 2005. Its mandate is to inquire and report on events surrounding the death of Dudley George, an Anishnabe-Potawatomi man who was shot and killed by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Sgt. Kenneth Deane during the 1995 conflict at Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Sarnia, Ontario. The battle at Ipperwash took place during the Gustafsen Lake stand-off between Secwepemc rebels and 450 army-equiped RCMP officers in British Columbia’s interior, and both of these confrontations served as an awakening for a generation of indigenous youth.
Dudley George died in his people’s struggle to reclaim the Anishnabe* territory of Aazhoodena (Stoney Point), which was stolen by the Department of National Defense in 1942, under the War Measures Act. The people of Aazhoodena were then forcibly removed to the nearby reserve of Kettle Point. A military camp (Camp Ipperwash) was installed at Aazhoodena and Ipperwash Provincial Park was established next to it in 1956 over a burial site. In 1993, the people of Aazhoodena reoccupied their territory and in 1995 the military base closed. When an OPP riot squad invaded Ipperwash Provincial Park on September 6 of 1995, the people defended themselves with sticks and rocks, driving the cops back and forcing them to abandon police vehicles. In a second assault, a police tactical team opened fire, killing Dudley George and wounding a youth. The OPP had borrowed equipment from the Canadian army for their mission, including two armored personnel carriers. Angry Natives retaliated the day after Dudley’s murder by building a highway blockade and setting it on fire. More than 1,000 people attended Dudley’s funeral. In 1997, Sgt. Kenneth Deane was convicted of criminal negligence in Dudley’s death, but although he was shown to have lied in court, he was only sentenced to two years of community service.
As the global capitalist system continues to expand into indigenous territories, confrontations between indigenous peoples and the police will only increase. Regardless of what the courts of our enemy decide in any situation of conflict, we can see that only resistance can change the oppressive conditions under which indigenous people live.
The rule of law is that the rulers make the law! We need warriors, not lawyers!
* The Anishnabe People are also known as the Ojibway or Chippewa.